When William Torres, owner of Tropi Shack, relocated to Florida from New Jersey in 2004, he knew he wanted to start his own business, but had no plans of breaking into the food industry.
“I came down and said we’re going to make something work. We’re going to take the little bit of money that I got, and I’m going to buy a business,” Torres said.
Entrepreneurship was in his blood. His father had run many businesses of his own, from a clothing store to a jewelry store, and Torres was inspired to do the same.
In 2004, when he set foot inside the restaurant at 2000 N. Volusia Ave. in Orange City, he decided to buy the building and start a restaurant of his own there.
“I bought it and went with it,” Torres said. “I entered carte blanche, not knowing, and I’m so happy with it. Because if I would have known this, I would have done it sooner.”
Seventeen years later, the Tropi Shack is an Orange City icon.
Torres sat down to speak with me after the lunchtime rush. Although COVID-19 has left Tropi Shack a bit short-staffed, he said, business has never slowed. He had to close the indoor and outdoor seating for a time during the pandemic, but traffic at the pickup window never stopped.
“I’m one of the blessed ones. During this pandemic year, I don’t know how many businesses can say this, but it was our busiest year since I’ve been in business,” Torres said.
Indoor and outdoor dining are back, and Tropi Shack offers a variety of Cuban subs, other sandwiches, hot dogs, and ice cream. In fact, I have yet to encounter a more extensive menu than Tropi Shack’s.
It lists 30 types of grilled Cubans, 19 styles of hot dogs, more than 30 flavors of ice cream, and a variety of other sandwiches.
If you’ve never imagined pairing tomatoes and bananas on a hot dog, Torres’ Banana Whamma Dog — which also includes his secret Cha Cha Sauce — is the perfect opportunity to do so. The rest of the menu features other options that are just as creative, alongside the ordinary favorites.
Torres runs Tropi Shack with the help of family members. His wife, Tenna Torres, also a teacher at DeBary Elementary School, and his two sisters — Carmen Maldonado and Nirsa Arce — may be found in the kitchen or behind the front counter. His two daughters, Christy Otero and Gabriella Torres, have plans to take over and carry on the business one day.
Tropi Shack is perhaps best known for its Cuban sandwiches — the most popular items on the menu. Although Torres and his family are Puerto Rican Americans and not Cuban, Torres decided he wanted to carry on the tradition of the restaurant that operated in the building before Tropi Shack, and that meant offering Cuban sandwiches.
Continuing the Cubans was an easy decision for Torres, given his background in New Jersey and his childhood growing up with a love for the pressed sandwiches.
“I grew up eating Cubans in my little area called the bodega … from Cuban stores. So I knew a lot about Cubans because, as a kid, I would go to my favorite little bodega and I would buy my Cubans,” Torres said.
I decided to try the classic Cuban sandwich, and was not disappointed. I have a love-hate relationship with mustard, because I find that it often overpowers sandwiches, but Tropi Shack’s Cuban balances the flavors and earns the restaurant its motto: “home of the best Cuban.”
The sandwich had the perfect ratio of mustard and pickles, and the combination of juicy roast pork, ham and Swiss cheese was delightful. The sandwich was served with Torres’ special mayo-ketchup sauce, which gave it an extra kick.
I couldn’t leave without satisfying my sweet tooth, so I tried one of Tropi Shack’s many sundaes. I decided on marshmallow hot fudge. The rich hot fudge, paired with the sweet marshmallow topping and vanilla ice cream, was the perfect way to cool down on a hot summer day.
Tropi Shack and its tropical atmosphere have only continued to prosper since Torres took the chance on the new venture 17 years ago. He remembers the hard work.
“I was like a freight train,” Torres said. “I didn’t know I was going to be successful. I’m gonna be honest. But I knew I was gonna give it a go, because I’m not a quitter.”
JUST THE FACTS
Location: 2000 N. Volusia Ave., Orange City
Cuisine: Sandwiches, hot dogs and ice cream
Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon-8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Signature dish: Cuban sandwiches
Price of my meal: $5.46 plus tax for the classic grilled Cuban, plus $6.99 and tax for my sundae